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Commonly Confused Words

Teacher/Instructor Katie Aquino
Katie Aquino

Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University

Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.

In grammar, there are sets of words that are commonly confused with one another. Examples of these sets of words include literal versus figurative, allusion versus illusion, fewer versus less than, imminent versus eminent, inferred versus implied, and elicit versus implicit.

Let's talk commonly confused words. So this are words that people often get mixed up and sometimes it's hard to remember the difference between them. Unfortunately there is no easy trick to memorize them except just making yourself aware of them.
So the first one that I see often is that, confusion of Imminent and eminent. Alright, Imminent means something is going to happen. Where as eminent, is prestigious, you would use that in front of somebody's name perhaps or the eminent doctor. The next, and I see this one often, especially in like literally analysis papers, inferred and implied. So the one thing that helps me remember this, I don't know why but I can drop errors. So inferred is something that I can get from something where as implied is something that I do. So you infer information when somebody hasn't told you everything. You imply, when you're not telling everybody something. So it's kind of the two different directions.
Elicit and illicit, alright. First thing to know, elicit is a verb and it means to pull something else. So if you want to elicit information from somebody, you might be very nice to them. Illicit, I do remember by the first three letters, 'ill' usually means something bad and illicit is something bad.
Alright, fewer and less than. And this is a tough one here. Fewer is something that you are going to use when you can actually count the items that you are talking about. So if you're talking about coffee beans, you could say I need fewer coffee beans because you could actually number out and count the beans. However less than, you're going to use when you can't count it. So, if I was saying I want less coffee than somebody else, that's what I would use because I can't actually count coffee. So I want fewer beans of coffee but less coffee.
Allusion and illusion, again I see this a lot in literary analysis papers. Allusion is a literally technique. So it's when an artist or an author or somebody refers to another artistic piece or another piece of literature. So you're often going to see this maybe in English textbooks or here about it in history but not often in other places. So, I can even try to remember it by, allusion starts with an 'A' and maybe it alludes to or something else like that. Illusion, is what you might see in the desert if you were very thirsty. You could call it a mirage, but it's also an illusion, something that doesn't really exist, alright.
And then finally and this is actually one of my favorite that always makes me chuckle especially when I see it in commercials, is the difference between literal and figurative. Now literal means you're taking something at face values, so you're taking the words and you're not adding any kind of inferences to it. Figurative means, you're taking the beyond just their face value. So, there is a commercial. I'm from Chicago. There is a commercial that's on all the time during the winter about this rags that you put in front of door cracks so, the, hot air stays in your house and the cold air stays out of your house. And when you watch it, it shows this pictures of dollar bills flying out the door and the guy says, "Your money is literally flying out your door." Your money is not literally flying out your door, it's figuratively flying out your door. So literal, is face value; figurative is when you add meaning. So hopefully this cleared up some common confusions with these words and you can get to using them righting your writing.